The best books about mate choice – in animals

Who am I?

I am an evolutionary ecologist with a lifelong fascination with mating behavior in animals, particularly fishes. The core of my doctoral thesis was trying to understand why some males mate with females of a different species, a behavior that I thought could not be adaptive. This was the starting point of my work on male mate choice, but also mate choice more generally. Originally from Germany, I have lived and worked in the US for a long time. Most of my work is on neotropical fishes so moving to America made sense.


I wrote...

Male Choice, Female Competition, and Female Ornaments in Sexual Selection

By Ingo Schlupp,

Book cover of Male Choice, Female Competition, and Female Ornaments in Sexual Selection

What is my book about?

As Charles Darwin developed his theory of natural selection, he noticed that the existence of highly ornamented males was a problem. How could such traits as the tail of a peacock evolve and be maintained when it clearly made the owner more likely to be detected by predators? Darwin’s solution was to propose sexual selection, where traits can be adaptive because the owner leaves behind more offspring due to the two mechanisms he proposed: female choice or male competition.

I argue that in addition to these two mechanisms, males also choose their mates and females compete for partners. The role of this has not been fully recognized and needs much more attention. My book provides a fresh look at the field with many amazing examples.

The books I picked & why

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Mate Choice: The Evolution of Sexual Decision Making from Microbes to Humans

By Gil Rosenthal,

Book cover of Mate Choice: The Evolution of Sexual Decision Making from Microbes to Humans

Why this book?

I loved reading this book and I have used it in teaching. This is the most comprehensive book on mate choice. It will be defining the field for a long time. Rosenthal looks at everything that has to do with mate choice and provides an authoritative view of mate choice. He looks at the complexity of mate choice in its full range. If you look for the most complete book on mate choice, this is it.


A Taste for the Beautiful: The Evolution of Attraction

By Michael J. Ryan,

Book cover of A Taste for the Beautiful: The Evolution of Attraction

Why this book?

This book is reflecting on the evolution of beauty and attraction. Ryan uses a large number of examples from his own research, including the Tungara frog, a species he has been working on for many decades. He combines this with personal stories about how the research came about and about the people he interacted with. This is a highly readable, fun book on a serious topic. 


Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection

By Evelleen Richards,

Book cover of Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection

Why this book?

This fascinating book reflects on the development of Darwin’s thinking as he was developing his theory of Sexual Selection. Superbly detailed and well crafted this book provides astonishing insights into how Darwin was thinking and how he fleshed out sexual selection theory. The book is not just important for understanding Darwin and one of his most famous ideas, it places his thinking in the context of his time. It is a long book, but worth the read.


Looking for a Few Good Males: Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology

By Erika L. Milam,

Book cover of Looking for a Few Good Males: Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology

Why this book?

When Darwin proposed the two mechanisms of sexual selection, one was almost immediately embraced by his Victorian contemporaries: male competition. Female choice, on the other hand, had to wait almost 100 years to be fully recognized. This book is an account of the history of female choice and provides fascinating insights into the development of a scientific discipline and how it is intertwined with society. Well written and very accessible, this is a great read.


Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can't Learn about Sex from Animals

By Marlene Zuk,

Book cover of Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can't Learn about Sex from Animals

Why this book?

Written by one of the great experts in the field this wonderful book takes a look at animal sexual behavior broadly. It introduces the amazing complexity of adaptations to sex and how they evolved. What is plain fascinating to the biologist may be a little odd to humans from time to time, but we have to learn not to view everything from a human perspective. This book is written for a broad audience and is very easy to read.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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